Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven

| June 24, 2011

“So certainly if we tell evil stories to make people feel sick, we can tell good myths to make them feel better.”
In Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s thirteenth film, Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven, the young German director pleads for self ratification while also exploiting consumerism. Known for his controversial themes, the banned film certainly pulls no punches in its message.
Emma “Mother” Küsters lives the typical middle class life. As she says, she tends to the house while her husband works. Ernst and Helene, the Küsters’ son and daughter-in-law, also live in the apartment. Things go awry when the family hears a brutal murder and suicide and Herr Küsters is to blame. A media frenzy overtakes the small German apartment.
Troubling news comes in threes as Mother Küsters now is forced to deal with her crumbling family. Estranged daughter Corinna, a cabaret singer, returns to acquire fame from her now infamous father as Ernst and Helene search for new living. With no one to turn to after a defaming article is published about her husband, Mother Küsters is approached by a Thalmann and his wife, a Communist couple.
Though somewhat confused, Emma is enchanted and contented with her new found friendship and is eventually persuaded to join the Party. After what is possibly the most touching moment of the film, Mother Küsters’ televised enrollment with the Communist party, an anarchist approaches the widow with an appeal for action rather than policy. Emma informs the Thalmann’s of the peculiar conversation, but shrugs it off at the evening’s end.
When her husband’s reputation isn’t restored with haste, Mother Küsters turns away from the Party and to Knab, the anarchist. Knab, Emma, and a few others storm the printing house for the article’s retraction. To the widow’s dismay, the situation turns sour when Knab pulls out a pistol and demands the release of Germany’s political prisoners.
Consequently, Fassbinder decided to complete the film with two incredibly different “trips to Heaven.” The primary ending shows Fassbinder’s moving camera freeze-frame on Mother Küsters’ face and describe her death by police gun fire. The second ending, used in the American release, depicts the foiled anarchist plot, but Emma being invited to dinner by a widower.
Labeled once as the “cinema of everything at once” Fassbinder’s Mother Küsters goes to Heaven, does suffer from an ideological onslaught. The film’s Sirkian melodrama succeeds while it’s political appeals contradict. R.W.F. tends to poke at subjects and then leave the audience to decide. Though there are faults, they do not discredit the wonderful film. Using once again the brilliant Brigitte Mira, Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven is a mid-life coming of age film that a fan of Fassbinder, Sirk, or melodrama should not miss.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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